Augusta procurement department's history shows focus on paperwork ahead of contractors' price

Thompson Building Wrecking Co.'s 2006 bid to demolish the former site of a candy factory at Ninth and Telfair streets was rejected. The city took a higher bid for the work, with officials saying the landfill fees would make up the $250,000 difference. The new library is now at the location.

While strict adherence to paperwork requirements has often been a priority for the city's Procurement Department, price hasn't.


In 2009, Ammar Construction Co. submitted the low bid, at $37,000, for improvements at the Henry Brigham Community Center. Three days after Tony Ammar signed a contract for the job, Procurement director Geri Sams sent him a letter saying his bid had been deemed noncompliant because he didn't twice date the subcontractor's affidavit.

Ammar said he had already spent $1,000 on bonding and had lined up a crew, including one man with a wife and two small children who was desperate for work. In a rebid, the job wound up going to Blount's Complete Home Services for $65,000 -- $28,000 more than it would have cost with Ammar a year earlier.

Augusta attorney Jack Long represented McKnight Construction in a suit filed after the city rejected its bid on a jail expansion project -- which was $2 million lower than the proposed bid winner -- because the company forgot to include a mandatory document.

The suit was dropped when the Augusta Commission voted to rebid the job. McKnight won the second time, but with rising construction costs the price had risen by $500,000.

By failing to follow rules designed to give business to the lowest qualified bidder, Procurement is needlessly costing taxpayers money, Long said. Two years ago, an investigation by The Augusta Chronicle that looked at dozens of contracts from 2006 and 2007 found 23 in which the lowest bidder was rejected, costing taxpayers $2 million.

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Civil cases stemming from Procurement

AUGUST 2006: Thompson Building Wrecking Co. sues the city over rejection of its bid to tear down the old candy factory at the Telfair Street site that is now home to the new library. A Richmond County Superior Court judge agrees with Thompson that the error that the Procurement Department deemed as the reason for the rejection wasn't relative to the job and commissioners could accept Thompson's bid. Commissioners refused to take Thompson's bid, which was $250,000 cheaper than the winner's.

JANUARY 2007: Thompson files suit in federal court challenging the city's use of a disadvantaged business enterprise program that gave preference to minority-owned businesses. A federal judge rules in Thompson's favor when the city could cite only an out-of-date study that showed minority business owners were unfairly locked out of doing business with the municipality. City commissioners voted to commission another study for about $500,000.

MAY 2007: Thompson sues the city alleging the Procurement Department is blocking access to public records. The Augusta Chronicle joined the lawsuit and later settled. The city pays a $174,000 lump sum settlement to Thompson for the first three cases.

FEBRUARY 2008: Thompson, the Association for Fair Government and two other local business owners sue the city in federal court, alleging procurement practices were unfair and unreasonable, locking out some business owners and costing taxpayers millions in unnecessary costs. A judge rules in the city's favor, finding the procurement issue a nonlegislative matter that cannot be challenged on constitutional grounds.

JULY 2008: McKnight Construction Co. files a Richmond County Superior Court lawsuit against the city when its bid to build the addition at the Phinizy Road jail is rejected as noncompliant. It drops lawsuit when commissioners opt to rebid the job. McKnight won the contract as the low bidder again.

JANUARY 2009: Holmes Monument Co. files a federal lawsuit after its bid to open and close graves in the city's cemeteries is rejected as noncompliant. A federal judge rules in the city's favor.

FEBRUARY 2009: Bleccs Inc. files a federal lawsuit when its bid to build a fire administration building on Deans Bridge Road is rejected as noncompliant. A judge rules in the city's favor.

AUGUST 2009: Alison Group files a federal lawsuit when its bid to provide marketing for the Augusta Regional Airport is rejected as noncompliant. A judge rules in the city's favor.

OCTOBER 2009: The Association for Fair Government files suit in Richmond County Superior Court alleging an inconsistent enforcement of procurement rules is discriminatory. A judge rules in the city's favor.

APRIL 14: Ammar Construction Co. files a Richmond County Superior Court lawsuit against the city after Ammar was informed it won the contract to do renovations at the Henry Brigham Community Center for $37,000 then was told the bid was noncompliant and was being rejected. The project was awarded to another company this year for $65,000.

-- From staff reports